STEWART DOWNING thinks Middlesbrough need to forget about what might happen during the January transfer window by hitting the new year on another unbeaten run that would have them firmly in the mix for an automatic promotion place in 2019.

Saturday’s crushing 3-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa was the heaviest since Tony Pulis took over at the Riverside Stadium last December.

It left Pulis reflecting afterwards that Middlesbrough need to stick together and put in the performances between now and the end of the year to keep them in the thick of things at the top of the table before the window opens.

The Middlesbrough manager will attempt to bring a number of new faces in, with improving his team’s attacking options integral to what he has in mind.

But Downing does not want Middlesbrough to lose sight of their targets by forgetting about the challenges facing them in the final run of matches of the year.

“If we don’t do very well in the next six games we could be out of touch,” said Downing. “It doesn’t matter who we get in in January, it is about now and we need to win.

“We need to think we are in the team now, someone could come in and take our place, that would be my thinking. ‘Who is he bringing in?’ That should be the motivation.

“January is a very difficult window, we have seen that in the last two or three windows in January. We have got players in late, paid more. I think you get the bulk in in the summer, that’s the best bet. In January you can pay over the odds for players, do you get who you want?

“The manager has already said he might not be able to get his top targets, that it can be very unsettling for players. Who will leave?

“I am sure if someone comes in someone will leave. I am not a big fan of it to be honest. It can make a difference, they have before. The bulk of the quality is already here.”

Downing knows Middlesbrough have already spent time at the top of the Championship and they have just seen an eight-match unbeaten run ended by the defeat to Villa.

That suggests Middlesbrough are not a million miles away from having a team capable of staying in the top two, although the weekend’s games have left them four points off second spot and leaders Norwich are a point further ahead.

Downing does not think January is the time to bring in players for the sake of it, recalling that extra bit of quality that Aitor Karanka brought in a few years ago to get Middlesbrough’s promotion push over the line.

“In the Championship, the year we got promoted, we managed to get Gaston Ramirez in (from Southampton),” said Downing. “He hit the ground running for us and proved it because we got promoted.

“A signing like that can really help. But a lot of players at this time of year haven’t played. They are out of form. If you do buy someone who is in form then you pay four or five million more than he is worth. I am not sure the manager will be prepared to do that.”

One area Middlesbrough will not look to change is their goalkeeper ranks. Darren Randolph has performed admirably all season to keep 11 clean sheets, but he had an off day on Saturday.

Having stunningly made a low save to deny Tammy Abraham early on, the Republic of Ireland international then found himself at fault for two of the three goals in the defeat to Dean Smith’s team.

He was guilty of misjudging the corner which led to James Chester’s 20th minute opener and then he made a mess of stopping Glenn Whelan’s long range drive with seven minutes remaining, after Abraham had added a second just after the hour.

Everyone connected with Middlesbrough knows how important Randolph has been to the Middlesbrough cause since arriving from West Ham in the summer of last year, so there will be no rush to knock him.

Downing said: “There’s not a lot to say to him. We can say he has been brilliant all season, but everyone makes mistakes. He has been a great signing.  “He is an experienced pro. He will bounce back and there is no blame on our part towards him. Before that we weren’t t at the races and we never got going.   “As a back four we stood off Villa, we normally make it hard for teams to get through us and we didn’t this time and that doesn’t help Darren.  “We were a bit all over the shop today, well not quite, but we weren’t ourselves. They had Jack Grealish, John McGinn, who looks a very good player for them, and we gave them too much time.”

Pulis had his team in at Rockliffe Park yesterday for a warm down and they will dissect a what went wrong against the Villans today.

Downing knows the Middlesbrough manager will not just let this defeat rest, so he is braced for the former West Brom boss to make his feelings known before then moving on to focus on Saturday’s visit of Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn to the Riverside.

Downing said: “This will not be forgotten. The manager is not like that. He is good at moving on from a defeat but he will nail what went wrong first, what he liked and we will go from there.  “He is not one to sulk, mope around. He is normally very good at bouncing back, but we expect a performance now because we have proven we can do that before. The manager has had us bouncing back well.”

Middlesbrough have won their previous two games this season when they have lost beforehand, to Norwich and Nottingham Forest. That is what is in Downing’s mind after suffering the 3-0 reversal.

Downing said: “It was a strange feeling to lose 3-0. As the game goes on you chase it, leave gaps and against teams like Villa you are liable.  “We played into their hands but we had to take risks. We dominated a lot of games at home. We have to give credit to them because they played very well.”

He added: “We were lacking a lot of things. We didn’t get into areas to hurt them enough. They conceded five last time out but we didn’t test them  “We sat off them and let them play and if you don’t do that to a team of that calibre and with the quality players they have then they are going to hurt you.

“They have a real array of talent and we didn’t get about them enough and if you give the likes Grealish time and space then they will punish you.

“Up to now we’ve been very good at bouncing back from disappointments, or defeats or bad displays. We’ve been very good at that.

“Now it’s a big test for us. We have Blackburn at home next and people will expect us to win and probably steamroller them like Villa did to us but football’s not like that.  “We have to prove ourselves again in front of our home fans and give them what they deserve and entertain them. We have to bounce back as quickly as possible. It’s very tight at the top and a little dip in form it is probably not a good time for that.

“Teams are creeping up on us so we need to get back to winning. Two or three wins gives you that it of breathing space.”